A protecting spirit, analogous to the guardian angels invoked by the Church of Rome. The belief in such spirits existed both in Greece and at Rome. The Greeks called them δαίμονες, daemons, and appear to have believed in them from the earliest times, though Homer does not mention them.
The Romans seem to have received their theory concerning the genii from the Etruscans, though the name genius itself is Latin (it is connected with gen-itus, γί-γν-ομαι, and equivalent in meaning to generator or father; see Augustine.2 The genii of the Romans are frequently confounded with the Manes, Lares, and Di Penates;3 and they have indeed one great feature in common, viz. that of protecting mortals; but there seems to be this essential difference, that the genii are the powers which produce life (dii genitales), and accompany man through it as his second or spiritual self, whereas the other powers do not begin to exercise their influence till life, the work of the genii, has commenced. The genii were further not confined to man, but every living being, animal as well as mall, and every place, had its genius.4 Every human being at his birth obtains (sortitur) a genius. Horace5 describes this genius as vultu mutabilis, whence we may infer either that he conceived the genius as friendly towards one person, and as hostile towards another, or that he manifested himself to the same person in different ways at different times, i.e. sometimes as a good, and sometimes as an evil genius. The latter supposition is confirmed by the statement of Servius,6 that at our birth we obtain two genii, one leading us to good, and the other to evil, and that at our death by their influence we either rise to a higher state of existence, or are condemned to a lower one. The spirit who appeared to Cassius, saving, "We shall meet again at Philippi," is expressly called his evil spirit, κακοδαίμων, cacodaemon.
Women called their genius Juno;7 and as we may thus regard the genii of men as being in some way connected with Jupiter, it would follow that the genii were emanations from the great gods. Every man at Rome had his own genius, whom he worshiped as sanctus et sanctissimus deus, especially on his birthday, with libations of wine, incense, and garlands of flowers.8 The bridal bed was sacred to the genius, on account of his connection with generation, and the bed itself was called lectus genialis. On other merry occasions, also, sacrifices were offered to the genius, and to indulge in merriment was not infrequently expressed by genio indulgere, genium curare or placare.
The whole body of the Roman people had its own genius, who is often seen represented on coins of Hadrian and Trajan.9 He was worshiped on sad as well as joyous occasions; thus, e.g. sacrifices (majores hostiae caesae quinque10) were offered to him at the beginning of the second year of the Hannibalian war. It was observed above that, according to Servius,11 every place had its genius, and he adds, that such a local genius, when he made himself visible, appeared in the form of a serpent, that is, the symbol of renovation or of new life.
The genii are usually represented in works of art as winged beings, and on Roman monuments a genius commonly appears as a youth dressed in the toga, with a patera or cornucopia in his hands, and his head covered; the genius of a place appears in the form of a serpent eating fruit placed before him.
- Works and Days, 235.
- City of God vii, 13.
- Censorinus, 3.
- Paulus Diaconus, p. 71; Servius on Virgil's Georgics i, 302.
- Epistles, ii, 2.187.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid vi, 743.
- Seneca. Epistulae 110; Tibullus, iv, 6.1.
- Tibullus, ii, 2.5; Ovid. Tristia iii, 13.18; v, 5, 11; Seneca. Epistulae, 114; Horace. Carmina iv, 11.7.
- Arnobius, ii, 67; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid vi, 603; Livy. The History of Rome xxx, 12; Cicero. For Aulus Cluentius, 5.
- Livy. The History of Rome xxi, 62.
- comp. on Aeneid v, 95
- Hartung, J.A. Die Religion der Römer. Vol. 1, p. 32 ff.
- Schömann. (1840). De Diis Manibus, Laribus, et Geniis. Greifswald.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.